The School Inquiry Cycle: Continuous Improvement, Critical Review

What does an ongoing school self-assessment plan look like when it aims for continuous improvement of teaching and learning? The Southern Maine Partnership, a regional Center of the Coalition, helps its member schools to incorporate documentation, analysis, communication, and constructive debate in the manner of the “School Quality Reviews” being developed by many others:

1. The school community poses key questions on which to focus its self-study (such as, “How does assessment drive our instruction?” or “How does student reflection inform our practice?”)

2. The school collects data relevant to its question, through exploring student work, classroom observations, shadowing students through their school day, interviewing or surveying members of the school community, and reviewing documents and policies.

3. The school community engages in dialogues focused on teaching and learning, using tools and processes like the “collaborative school protocol,” the “collaborative assessment conference,” the “descriptive review” of student work, the “tuning protocol,” the “slice” of student work across a designated time period, or others.

4. The school hosts a visiting review team (including teachers from partner schools, university-based educators, administrators, and community members), which spends from two to five days in the school observing, interviewing, and finally reporting its observations to the staff (both orally and in writing) on the focus question the school has posed and on the Partnership’s guiding “learner-centered principles.” (The cost of this visit is usually under $3,000, participants say, including substitute fees and lodging for the visitors.)

5. The school develops ways of reporting out to the community and discussing what actions to take next on the basis of the information gathered.

6. The school and community identify new questions and continue the cycle.

The Southern Maine Partnership is based at the University of Southern Maine, Bailey Hall Room 117, Gorham, ME 04038. Telephone:   (207) 780-5669    (207) 780-5669 .